A death

by Arran James

I woke up today to a phone call. ‘Unknown’; my father. Calm, clear voice but tripping over on the introduction (“it’s G. here…I mean, it’s Dad”).

A story: an older man, 80-odd, is climbing a ladder to prune an apple tree. His wife and youngest daughter (late 30s?) are in the city shopping for nice things, and probably a champagne cocktail with hair and teeth and the obscenity of laughter. He is climbing a ladder in his garden, that substitute for a career that a man who has worked all his life is resigned to when he ceases to be productive. He probably doesn’t care about the ladder, pays no heed to the probably scratched paintwork, the mottled marks or indentations (is it wooden or metal?) as he climbs it. If you asked him he could tell you the colour but pruning sheers in hand the colour escapes his attention. He is immersed in this…or maybe not, maybe he’s thinking about opening a bottle of wine or the woman who smiled at him dismally in the shop earlier today. He notices a skew branch that both disavows and calls for his attentive ordering. What do the sheers feel like in his hands? Or is he using some kind of scissor? Hard to imagine.

He stretches out to make his cut. The ladder is uncertain beneath him. He leans out just a little further. The ladder buckles, falls away from him and he falls away from the tree, from the sky. Hitting ground. Everything goes dark. Later he will be found in a pool of blood. The postman will notice the blood is coming from his head. Soon the drama of an air ambulance. A helicopter will land in the adjacent field. Paramedics will rush to him. They will take no care for the careful effort of years; they will trample through the garden, feet probably landing in the flowered borders, tearing up the manicured lawn, the fabric of their uniforms catching a little on the apple tree. By this time the older man’s youngest son will be there; his heart strains a little in the stress of it, reminding him of the heart attack that followed his 48th birthday, but silently and without concern; his father is dying on in the damp soil before him.

A few hours later. Wires and IVs. Monitors and the quiet panic of professionals. In a bed that isn’t his, in a room he’s never been in before, in a city where he never lived, my grandfather will die. Has died. Is dead.

I hang up the phone. No emotions come. I regret their absence. I wish for a deep hurt to awaken but it doesn’t. A few hours later I will think of Emile Cioran’s mourning of the loss of a certain Gnostic joy to be taken from the death of a loved one; why don’t we celebrate their release from the burden of existence, the suffering that life in it’s precariousness necessarily invites. I don’t cry but I don’t rejoice either.

How can one react to the death of another? ‘Yes, it had to happen’.

After hanging up I wander through to the kitchen/living room (open plan design) and see my house-mates cooking, reading, the television on, a laptop flickering indifferently at someone I don’t know (he is reading something about biomarkers of disease). I light a cigarette and sit at the kitchen table. I open my mouth to contribute to the conversation that is already under way (they are talking about washing up). I say something funny. T. laughs. I go on. Among the others I go on. All I can think is ‘why was an 80something year old man up a tree in the first place?’ I realise it doesn’t matter.

Yes. It had to happen. Now it has. That’s all.